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)

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.

The Nile

The River in the Bible - Third in a series

We will not find the word Nile in the King James version of the Bible, but rather, simply river. Only river is used in Young's Literal Translation and Webster's Bible as well. Most other translations do use Nile.

The first mention of the word river in the Bible is in Genesis 2 and it speaks of a flowing stream, nahar, the perennial river, as noted in the last post. The "yeor" or Nile, was a "fosse" or trench, and formed a definite channel through the land. In the Old Testament, "yeor" is used most often for the Nile.

The Nile is believed to be the longest river in the world at more than 4,000 miles, and runs through 11 African countries, emptying into the Mediterranean, from its basin in Egypt. Some infer it was the Edenic river Gihon (Gen 2:13) that flowed around the whole land of Cush, but that is not possible to determine.

We first encounter the Nile in Genesis 41 when Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he stood by the river. (Gen 41:1)

In his dream, seven healthy cows came up out of the Nile and fed in a meadow; then seven lean ones came from the river and stood by the other seven along the river's edge. Then, the lean ones ate the fat ones, and Pharaoh awoke.

He fell asleep again and dreamed that seven good ears of corn came up on one stalk, and then seven thin ones budded out, and the thin ears devoured the full ones. Again, he awoke and understood he had been dreaming.

In the morning his spirit was troubled and he sent for magicians and wise men, but none could interpret his dreams. His butler then recalled Joseph from his time in prison, a man who had accurately interpreted his and the chief baker's dreams. In a moment Joseph was freed from 13 years of unjust imprisonment, and, crediting the Lord, he was able to explain Pharaoh's dreams.

The second dream confirmed the first: Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to appoint a man to oversee the land and conserve a fifth of the produce of the plenteous years, and became that man.

The predicted famine arrived, and Israel traveled to Egypt for bread. They would move there and remain about 400 years.

The cattle came up out of the river, an emergence of the plans of the Lord.

In God's providence we are given plenty and poverty. In this instance, the purpose was to enrich Egypt and humble the other nations, so that Israel in particular would move to Egypt in fulfillment of Abraham's dream (Gen 15:13). The Lord prophesied that his descendants would be in a strange land 400 years as servants, but would return to the promised land.

That Joseph was made viceroy of Egypt fulfilled his own dreams for which his brothers had sold him to slavery (Gen 37:5-10), for his dreams revealed they would bow to him, and it turned out that way. Their deed was punished in their sons' circumstance as slaves, but then out of the Nile, the river, a man was lifted, Moses, to save them and lead them home. But before he could, the Nile would be turned to blood and vomit frogs to plague the Egyptians, to convince the Pharaoh "who knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8) that the Exodus was imminent. How much nicer when he turns water into wine!

Despite their years of hard labor in Egypt, the Israelites would at times look back and want to return there for protection. To end this delusion, the Lord prophesied through Ezekiel,

Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales. And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven.

And it came to pass that the Pharaoh who claimed to own the Nile and be its creator was defeated in battle and put to flight (see a commentary on Eze 29). His subjects who attached to him as scales on a dragon suffered the same fate. They had no respect for Him who fashioned the river long ago. (Isa 22:11)

In another instance we find: ... the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt. (2 Kings 24:7)

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? …who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? (Proverbs 30:4)

Let us tell.

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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