The Return of Elijah

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The Creation Concept

This Generation...

How the heavens passed away with great noise

Atheists see blood

Rivers in the desert

Zechariah's wall of fire

The Return of Elijah

The stone cut without hands

Cyrus, a type of Christ

The Army of God

The Raven and the Dove

Creation and the Gospel

Rivers in the desert

David wrote about God as the fountain or source of life, and spoke of "the river of thy pleasures."

Psalm 36:7-9
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.

Other psalms of David tell about this river. It is associated with the city of God, which refers to the saints.

Psalm 46:4
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

Psalm 65:9
Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water:

The idea of a metaphorical river is developed in the writings of the prophets.

Isaiah wrote about Zion and the holy city, and compared the Lord to "a place of broad rivers and streams," which seems to allude to Eden.

Isaiah 33:20-22
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.

J.A. Alexander commented on Isaiah's imagery of there not being ships sailing on these streams:

The most obvious explanation seems to be that ... Jehovah will be mighty for us there. What place is meant: A place of rivers and streams broad on both sides, i. e. spreading in every direction. ...  The situation described is one which has all the advantages of mighty streams without their dangers. There shall not go in it as oared vessel (literally, a ship of oar), and a gallant ship shall not pass through it. The parallel expressions both refer, no doubt, to ships of war which in ancient times were propelled by oars. The antithesis which some assume between trading ships and vessels of war would here be out of place. The fine old English phrase gallant ship is ill exchanged by some translators for mighty or magnificent vessel.

The earlier prophecies of Isaiah, Volume 1
by Joseph Addison Alexander, p. 553-554

Perhaps Isaiah saw the positive side of things; although Jerusalem was situated far from any navigable rivers, this had the advantage that it made the city less vulnerable to attack from the sea. So the figurative rivers and streams that he described would not bring any ships of war, as had happened to other cities that were built on great rivers or coasts. 

Jeremiah spoke of God as the "fountain of living waters," which had been forsaken by Israel.

Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Daniel, in his description of Christ, said "a fiery stream issued and came forth from before him." So he adds the element of the fire of judgment to the metaphorical river.

Daniel 7:9-10
I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

In many parts of the world, there are irrigation projects, where water from a river is diverted into desert regions. This often results in a flourishing growth, of crops, or fruit trees, or other kinds of vegetation, in the irrigated land.

Several scriptures describe something similar to this, where the waters are not literal waters, but spiritual, or figurative, and they are called "living waters," because they represent the gospel, and its spiritual effects on people. Zechariah wrote:

Zechariah 14:8
And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.

The city of Jerusalem is located on a hill, and there is a ridge of hills on the east. But "living waters" are not confined to valleys. The phrase "rivers of living water" was mentioned by Jesus.

John 7:38
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.

The "living water" refers to the understanding of God's word, that comes from the Spirit of Christ, and ultimately leads us to inherit eternal life. The word of God is the scriptures. Paul said Christ is sanctifying and cleansing his Church "with the washing of water by the word." [Ephesians 5:26]

The "Jerusalem" that Zechariah's prophecy refers to is the Church, the holy city. The prophecy says that living waters will flow towards the wilderness that lies east of Jerusalem, as well as towards the west; the wilderness or desert is symbolic, as are the rivers, the waters, and the city itself.

The prophet Isaiah wrote of waters flowing in rivers in the desert for God's people.

Isaiah 43:19-20
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.

The people Isaiah refers to are called "my chosen," and in the NT, it is those who believe the gospel, and who are in the Church, who are called "chosen." In the NT, unbelieving Jews are never called "chosen." The term is always used for God's Church, and those who are in it. And the Jews are not wandering in the wilderness, like their ancestors did under Moses.

Paul said the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus was an example for the Church. He wrote, "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." [1 Corinthians 10:6]

The food the Israelites ate, called manna, he called spiritual meat, which is symbolic of the teaching all Christians have available to them in the scriptures. They all drank the same "spiritual drink," pictured by the water that flowed from the rock, which Paul says pictures Christ, the source of living water, and the Spirit of God.

In Revelation 12:6, the woman, who represents the Church, flees to the wilderness. The wilderness pictures the period of trial, after being set free from the world, and the bondage of sin, to entering our promised "rest." In every generation, the people of God have to be freed from the world, and bondage to sin, that is pictured by the woman's escape to the wilderness.

The prophet Joel said water will flow from the temple, which also represents the Church. It flows to the wilderness. The literal temple was located in Jerusalem, and yet Joel said the water from it flows towards the wilderness. And he identifies the wilderness as the one on the east side of the Jordan!

In the prophecy of Joel, the mountains drop down new wine, hills flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah (that include many dry river beds in wilderness areas) will flow with water. The fountain that comes from the house of the Lord waters the valley of Shittim where the Israelites camped, before they entered the promised land. The temple represents the Church.

Joel 3:16-18
The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.

The valley of Shittim was located in the wilderness, east of Jerico. It was the last place where the Israelites camped, before entering the Holy Land.  Joel pictures water flowing from God's temple in Jerusalem, towards the east, across the Geat Rift Valley and the Jordan River, to the desert that lies east of the Jordan. Spiritual waters do not have to follow literal valleys!

The imagery of Isaiah is similar, as he said "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose," [Isa. 35:1] and there would be "rivers in high places."

Isaiah 41:18
I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

Isaiah's prophecy also must refer to rivers of spiritual "waters" that God provides for his people.

Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
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