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)